Lancaster Sound is a remote treasure in Canada's Far North, cradled between Baffin and Devon islands at the eastern mouth of the fabled Northwest Passage. Given the location, few make the trip. But when they do, the desire to protect this unique ecosystem is awakened. This is what happened with 42 Aboriginal students from Canada's Northern communities and 70 students from around the world who ventured through the Sound with Students on Ice, a group that provides education youth expeditions in the polar regions.
Now anyone can visit Lancaster Sound virtually with this new interactive website from WWF-Canada.
Known worldwide for its rich biodiversity and abundant marine life, Talluruptiup Tariunga, as it's called by the Inuit, is home to strong currents and tides that bring a constant supply of nutrients to the surface, sustaining a wide range of species from the land, sea and air. Polar bears, narwhals, belugas, bowheads, walrus, seals and seabirds all make their home here. In early summer, it serves as a migration passageway for marine mammals that enter its waters from the east and make their way to feeding and nursing areas farther west. Lancaster Sound is also important as a food source for neighbouring communities, which include Pond Inlet and Arctic Bay.
At WWF-Canada's new interactive Lancaster website, you can watch videos of wildlife, play with maps to understand how the region is used by people and species, and learn about the decades-old campaign to have Lancaster Sound designated as a National Marine Conservation area to protect wildlife and the entire region for generations to come.
Support for the designation grows with exposure to the rarely visited region and the treasures it holds. Jessica Park, manager of Arctic at WWF-Canada, joined the student expedition, and asked the teens about the need to protect the Sound.
"The water is where our food lives," said Parr Etidloie, 16, from Cape Dorset, Nunavut. "A lot can happen, not just to the narwhal, polar bear and fish, but to us because we eat them. I want the next generation to be able to taste the food we eat."
Lyric Oblin Moses, 17, from Gatineau, Que. agreed. "It's not only important to protect it for the species that inhabit the area, but also the people who use it for hunting and fishing."
In the early 1970s, a proposal to drill an exploratory oil well in the middle of Lancaster Sound met with opposition and led to a series of inquiries by the federal government. Designation as an NMCA would protect the region from ocean dumping, overfishing, and undersea mining and energy exploration, but as of today this incredibly biodiverse region remains unprotected.
In the meantime, the region has begun experiencing the effects of climate change. People and species are dealing with rapidly melting sea ice and the accompanying development that comes with an ice-free Arctic. Just outside the proposed NMCA boundary, leases that were granted for offshore oil exploration in the 1970s are still listed as active, despite laws and regulations stating they were due to expire in 1979. Ships transporting iron ore from a nearby mine add to the increasing traffic in this sensitive marine environment.
WWF is concerned about what additional development will do to this harsh but fragile environment and the people and wildlife that rely on it. Students on the Lancaster Sound trip found the threat of these developments most concerning, too. Myca Nakashook, 18, from Pangnirtung, Nunavut, worried about the impacts of an oil spill. "The ocean would be fully covered in oil -- and the animals, too. To see them suffer would make us suffer," she said.
An NMCA designation wouldn't necessarily stop shipping or all new or proposed developments, but it would prohibit oil and gas exploration and development and ensure greater balance within the region. "Many people think environmentalists are trying to protect the environment and don't care about economic development. That's not true. Sustainability means balancing the economic, the social and the environmental aspects of our society without compromising the needs of future generations," said Alice Xu, 16, from Richmond, B.C.
Rachel Boere, 21, from Toronto agreed: "Creating a marine conservation area doesn't close doors ... it opens them to infinite conservation and protection of this unique and inspiring place."
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